Week 1 – Building Peaceable Learning Communities (Summer 2013)

Welcome everyone! Let’s jump right in. Begin by watching the welcome video below, then make your way through the rest of the blog post, following the instructions and engaging in the various exercises. I recommend dedicating around 4 hours this week to complete the assignments and activities.

“The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.”
-William James

This week we look at different ways educators can incorporate community building practices and methods into their work.

The learning objectives of this module are that you will be able to:

  • Describe and represent who you are and what you bring to our learning community
  • Identify commonalities and differences that strengthen our learning community
  • Brainstorm ways in which icebreakers can be incorporated into your educational practice
  • Define cooperative learning and identify its benefits
  • Think creatively about how to structure learning spaces in ways that foster community
  • Critique and assess the value of rules and rule-making in the classroom
  • Devise questions that can be utilized during check-in processes and with learning buddies

Key ideas and terms for this module are: cooperative learning, icebreakers, community agreements, community building, check-ins

The exercises for this week are:

  • Daily peace actions (Quiet Time)
  • Contribute to Forum 1.1 by Wednesday, July 3rd @ 12:00pm
  • Participate in the all class conference call on Wednesday, July 3rd @ 5:00pm
  • Talk with your learning partner over the phone by Saturday, July 6th
  • Contribute to Forum 1.2 by Sunday, July 7th @ 12:00pm

Continue reading for full outline of this week’s assignments



First thing is first. We need to introduce ourselves to one another and get to know with whom we will be sharing this learning experience.

Jump into forum 1.1 and introduce yourself to the group. The questions to which you should respond are as follows:

  1. What is your name?
  2. What is/are your official titles(s) (e.g. profession, job, etc.)?
  3. What is/are your unofficial titles(s) (e.g. other ways you identify who you are and what you do – hobbies, family, beliefs, etc.)?
  4. If you could have dinner with anyone, past or present, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
  5. Having gone through the syllabus, reading the objectives and knowing the requirements, what are some agreements that you would like us to have as a class that will help make this course run smoothly and be successful?

Please contribute to this forum no later than 12:00pm on Wednesday July 3rd. You will need to read everyone’s introduction in order to participate in our all class conference call that same evening at 5pm. The three questions that you should think about as you read everyone’s introductions are:

  1. Who is one person in the class with whom you have much in common? In what ways?
  2. Who is one person in the class that you would like to join for their dinner? Why?
  3. What is one unique and valuable thing that you bring into our community of learners?

Come prepared to share your responses to these questions during the conference call.



Contributing to Forum 1.1 and reading everyone’s introduction acts as an icebreaker of sorts for this online class – particularly with the addition of a thought-provoking question like who you would have dinner with and then asking everyone to find another person with whom they have something in common. The all-class conference call will also be a way to “break the ice” and build on what was shared in the intro forum.

Icebreakers are commonly associated with workshops, camps, orientations, and organizational retreats to foster community and build trust. However, these exercises and activities can achieve similar outcomes in other learning environments.

Click here to continue reading and then post a response to the reflection question at the bottom of that page.



Each week you will be partnered up with a different student in the class. The two of you will set up a time to “check-in” with one another over the phone, Skype, or in person and share some of your thoughts and reactions to the materials and exercises that were part of that week’s module. This check-in process will allow us all to break through some of the online learning barriers and actually hear the voices of our peers and connect at a deeper level around the themes of this course.

Checking-in can involve many things. It can mean checking in on how students are feeling. It can mean checking in on their understanding of a specific theme or assignment. It can mean checking in on whether or not they feel they are achieving their goals for the course. It can mean checking in on any lingering questions they may have about a particular topic. Hence, there are always opportunities available in learning processes – at the beginning, middle, or end – for checking-in with a buddy and, as a result, cultivating the community of learners.

Click here to continue reading and then post a response to the reflection question at the bottom of that page.



In Forum 1.1 you were asked to think about and respond to a question regarding agreements that you would like us all to have as a community of learners in order for the class to run smoothly and be a success. During our all-class conference call we will review the proposed agreements everyone shared in the forum and hopefully come to consensus on a final list that will guide us through the rest of the course.

It is oftentimes assumed that the “rules” of the classroom must be determined solely by the teacher. He or she decides what constitutes appropriate behavior and the students immediately view themselves as a group of individuals that must be managed by an authority figure. This dynamic can create resistance, resentment, and a feeling of powerlessness.

Click here to continue reading and then post a response the reflection question at the bottom of that page.



This  is an online class that requires no physical space. And there are important design elements to online learning. This course, however, is focused primarily on building peaceable learning communities that do share physical space. The question then arises, how can we think differently about designing and structuring learning spaces so that they are conducive to peace.

In this August 2012 article from BrainPickings.org titled, How Children Learn: Portraits of Classrooms around the World, one gets a glimpse of how learning environments are structured across the globe.  The photos shared in this article are just a fraction of the photos that can be found in the full book, however, one will notice a common characteristic in the design of the classrooms. For the most part, students are lined up in rows, sitting at desks, all of which are facing the front of the room, which is presumably where the teacher stands.

Click here to continue reading and then post a response to the reflection question at the bottom of that page.



The design of a learning space is supposed to support the kind of learning that one wants to foster and embody the principles that are embedded into the approaches to teaching that are utilized within that community. This is where the concept of cooperative learning comes into play.

In this interview with Dr. Roger Johnson, Author, Director of Cooperative Learning Institute at the University of Minnesota, talks about the what cooperative learning actually means, how it contrasts with competitive learning, and the research that has been conducted around its effectiveness.

Click here to continue reading and then post a response to the reflection question at the bottom of that page.



On Wednesday, July 3rd @ 7:30pm – 8:30pm, we will all join a conference call to further establish and recognize who we are as a learning community and share some of our motivations and goals for taking the course. This will also be a time to answer any questions you may have about the syllabus, content, or schedule of the course.

Conference call instructions will be sent out via email.



As was mentioned earlier, one of your assignments this week and every week is to check-in with one of your classmates on the phone, through Skype or in person, to learn about one another, discuss the week’s assignments, and reflect on how the methods, ideas, and practices introduced in this course can be adapted, developed, or integrated into your teaching and learning contexts.

Click here to see who you are paired with is this week.

The focus of this week’s paired conversation is “community building.” The guiding questions to discuss with your partner are as follows:

1. Pick one of the thought provoking questions below to ask your partner.

  • If you were asked to teach a course on your philosophy of life, what book(s) or film(s) would be required reading and/or viewing and why?
  • If you had to the have the same four course meal for the rest of your life what would that meal be and why?
  • If you had to pick a memory from your life that would be turned into a painting that would hang over your bed so that you saw it every nigh before you went to sleep and every morning when you woke up, what would that memory be and why?
  • If you could have one super power (e.g. flight, invisibility, incredible speed, etc.) what would it be and why?
  • If you could re-do one year of your schooling, what year would you pick and why?

2. Devise your own thought-provoking question to ask your partner.

3. Think of a moment in your life when you really thrived and excelled as a learner. What was the experience like? How were you encouraged, supported, motivated, and challenged?



Please contribute to forum 1.2 before Sunday, July 7th @ 12:00pm.

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